Three young people – a sickly sister, Himari, and her two older bothers, Kanba and Shouma, who love and adore her, find themselves cast into a spiral of ever-weirdening events when Himari dies in the hospital.
A bizarre hat confers life and power to Himari, elaborately transforming her into…well, we’re still not sure who she is now…. Shouma and Kanba are required by this entity to find the “Penguindrum.” The story of what the Penguindrum is, and why it is important, is the entirety of the plot and I refuse to attempt to simplify it for this review. ^_^ The quest for the Penguindrum involves Shouma’s classmate Ringo, Ringo’s late older sister Momoka, a teacher in Shouma and Kanba’s school, and his wife, Takarisienne (or something awfully similar) Yuri.
If you are among those who find Mawaru Penguindrum (輪るピングドラム) confusing, please take a moment to read this post first. The Tl;dr version is – read more. You will learn allegory, symbolism and how to follow an non-linear plot. Reading helps us understand storytelling. In this case, the plot is a series of puzzle pieces that are shifting around and will, with time, resolve into a picture. Don’t be impatient, don’t try to second-guess. Just sit back and let the story be told.
For those viewers who have seen Revolutionary Girl Utena, many of the stylistic properties and several of the memes illustrated in Mawaru Penguindrum, will be familiar. This is not surprising, as they share the creative impetus of Ikuhara Kunihiko (@ikuni_noise on Twitter.)
Of course I wouldn’t be reviewing this series here if there weren’t at least some Yuri. Yuri, voiced by Noto Mamiko – who really gets to stretch her range here – is not randomly named at all. That’s all I’ll say, to avoid spoilers that are impossible to talk around. These episodes were pretty much the turning point in the series.
There also a number of other elements I like in this series – no one will be surprised to learn I like murderous Natsume Masako, the Takarazuka parodies, the “best of” cast. Seriously, this voice cast has one of everything. Inoue Kikuko, Fukami Rica!!!! (Sailor Venus to all of you….) of course we’d expect Koyasu Takehito somewhere in this and he is, Paku Romi and Noto Mamiko, and Ishida Akira, and Horie Yui…… So clearly, he’s drawing from 6 degrees of Yuri, past, present and probably future.
So…what is Mawaru Penguindrum about? Well, like so much of Ikuhara’s work, it’s about the delusions in which we wrap ourselves, and the effects those delusions have on the people around us. And, it’s about the veil of those delusions being stripped from our eyes.
When I was in Japan just last month, this series was everywhere, so clearly a raging marketing success. I’m really hoping that someone brave will pick it up here for license. I favor TRSI, as they’ve already gotten us Utena, and I’d love to see them pick this up. I never say this, but, I’d cough up for the Blu-Ray even. The animation is good to awesome.
Art – 9
Story – 10
Characters – 9
Yuri – 7
Loser Ikuhara Fan – 8
Overall – 9
I’m so glad to Ikuhara is stretching his wings on this series. It feels un/comfortable in perfect proportion and I am looking forward to it with the same edge-of-my-seat anticipation I had for Utena. I wonder where it will go next?